It was a particularly cold day in March as Johnny sat in the waiting room, toying with the sleeves of his grey wool sweater. The snow still hadn’t quite yet melted outside, signaling that the fresh green of spring was still a little ways away.
And yet, Johnny wanted nothing more than to dunk himself in an ice cold bath. The heat of his skin itched under his clothes, and he started to sweat.
He’d made this appointment almost a month earlier, as a birthday present to himself. But now that he was here, at Neo Culture Tech, he’d begun to doubt himself.
His leg bounced steadily as he stared at the various posters of flowers and plants plastered around the room. No. He would not doubt himself, not when he was here already. He’d been thinking about this for almost a year already, ever since Kun had introduced him to his little lilac seed, his little Renjun, whom Johnny had watched blossom into a beautiful purple flower. He’d be a little boy soon, Kun said, he could just feel it.
Johnny had never personally thought that he’d ever want a plant child, or ‘sprout baby’ as they were coined. He’d mainly thought he’d be married with four naturally made children already, but that plan was long gone after he hit the age of twenty-five, when he’d just begun his career in teaching.
And now, at the age of thirty-three, almost seven years as a published author and officially four as a contract professor, Johnny couldn’t deny it anymore. He was lonely.
The only family he had was Kun, his best friend from his own University days, and of course, Renjun would be part of that too once he was officially born. His parents had already passed a couple years before, and his distant family were an ocean away.
He either spent his time working on his next story or grading papers. It just seemed like a never ending cycle to him, which he hadn't minded for a while, but lately, he'd found himself sitting at his piano, wishing he had someone to play for.
Someone he could take care of, someone he could put his heart and soul into and see how they made it their own. He wanted to be a part of that journey for someone, and watching Kun take care of his sprout baby for the past year had made him realize that this is what he wanted. He wanted to be sitting in this waiting room, no matter how nervous he was. He wanted this so bad. He wanted a baby.
Johnny jumped out of his seat, his heart in his throat. The nurse gave him a reassuring smile, one that was trained to calm the nerves of the people who crossed from the waiting room to the doctor's office, one step closer to getting their child.
“Right this way please.”
He followed her, concentrating hard on trying not to trip over his own two feet as she lead him out of the waiting room and into a larger area with several doors.
“We're just going to take some measurements to verify your health records. If you could remove your shoes and step on the scale please.”
Johnny did as he was told, wondering why his own health records mattered when he wasn't physically giving birth to the child. Though he supposed you couldn't just give a child to every person that walked through the doors. He'd heard the company, Neo Culture Tech, were very thorough with their background checks. He’d already submitted his health records, a police check, and given Kun as a reference. He’d only hoped that it would be enough.
After measuring his height and weight, Johnny slipped back into his shoes and followed the nurse into one of the rooms, where she directed him to sit on the bench adjacent to the examination table.
“Doctor Kim will be right with you.”
“Thank you.” Johnny smiled at the nurse, still hoping that his nerves were not as visible on the outside. He’d done plenty of interviews in his day, he would be confident to say that he was practically an expert. He hadn’t been nervous for an interview in years.
But this one was different. Not only was it deciding his own future, it would be deciding someone else’s whole life. Johnny picked at a fluff on his sweater, his heart pounding in his ears.
He jumped up once more when the door swung open, a smaller man in a white lab coat entering the room with a much more natural and somehow brighter smile than the nurse had.
“John Suh?” The doctor reached his hand out to shake Johnny’s. Firm and reassuring. Johnny had a feeling this was exactly the kind of work he was meant for. “My name is Kim Junmyeon. I’m going to be conducting this interview, and if all goes well, I’ll be with you every step of the way on this new journey.”
Johnny nodded and sat back down onto the bench, Doctor Kim mirroring him as he sunk into an office chair and pulled the computer screen closer to him.
“So we’ll just start with some basic health questions first. Your height and weight seem in line with your health records so that’s good, police check is clear - beautiful. Ah, your reference is Mr. Qian! How is little Renjun doing?”
“Good, good,” Johnny bobbed his head, rolling his sleeve in between his hands. “Kun says he thinks he’ll be born soon, so that’s very exciting.”
“Oh, I can’t wait.” Doctor Kim’s eyes seem to light up at the prospect of seeing Renjun for the first time. He’d also been the doctor to give Kun his interview, and would be Renjun’s pediatrician once he was born. Johnny hoped that he’d make an equally good impression on him as Kun had.
Doctor Kim tutted to himself as he scrolled through what Johnny presumed to be his profile. “No family history of cancer I see, that’s a good sign. Your father had low blood pressure, you haven’t had any signs or problems with that yet?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“That’s good. Do you smoke at all?”
“No.” Johnny had smoked a couple of cigarettes in University, but he’d never quite taken a liking to it, thankfully.
“Do you drink?”
“How many times a week would you say?”
“Maybe, twice? It’s dropped dramatically since Kun got Renjun actually. Sometimes I won’t have a glass of wine for weeks and I don’t even realize.” Johnny stifled a laugh and was met with an amused smile from the doctor.
“Being friends with an expecting parent can do that to you.”
After a few more questions about his health and lifestyle, they moved on to his relationship status.
“Are you currently in a committed relationship?”
“Ever been married? Or planning to?”
“Never been married. I’d wanted to be by the time i was twenty-four, but you know how life can just… take you other places.”
“Yes that’s very true. So you’d say you’re taking on this journey alone for the most part?”
“Right now, yes.” Johnny paused for a moment before blurting out, “But I have Kun.”
Doctor Kim smiled. “Yes. I recall he said something similar to that as well.”
The more they talked the more Johnny relaxed. Doctor Kim had a way of making you feel like this wasn’t an interview, like you were just chatting and getting to know each other despite the rather personal questions.
“Can you tell me about where you live? What your place is like?”
“It’s not too big or too small I’d say. A two bedroom apartment, though I live alone, and it’s a bit messy right now if I do say so myself.”
“Do you have a garden or backyard of any sort?”
“No, just a little balcony. I live on the eighth floor.”
“How much natural light would you say you get?”
“Not a lot, my windows face north.”
“Do you prefer the room temperature to be more on the cold side or the hot side?”
These questions were a bit odd, not quite what Johnny was used to, but he hadn’t ever done anything like this before either. “The cold side? I prefer… bundling up I guess.”
“Do you think you’d ever change your living space for someone else? If they needed it?”
That one had Johnny stumped. He loved his apartment, it was his home. He wasn’t too sure how to answer. “I… I don’t know. I’d like to think so. Maybe I’m too attached to what I know right now, but I know the answer I’d like to give would be yes.”
Doctor Kim smiled another one of his genuine reassuring smiles. “Change is always scary, and this is a big change. I appreciate the honesty.”
One hour soon turned into three when the interview was finally over. Johnny was exhausted. He’d taught three hour classes before, no problem, but talking for three hours about himself? With no idea on what answer would or would not help you? He felt sixteen again, when he was sat in the office of a McDonalds for his first job interview.
“Well, Mr. Suh,” Doctor Kim stood up, and Johnny followed. “We’ll call you in about a week’s time, and we’ll see what happens from there.” He stuck his hand out, and Johnny shook it.
“Thank you, Doctor. I hope… I hope…” For the first time in a long time, Johnny, the published author and professor, was out of words to say.
“Don’t worry too much.” The doctor gave his hand a light squeeze before letting go. “I have a good feeling about you.”
“Thank you.” Johnny breathed, feeling winded. He left Neo Culture Tech that day with a weight off his chest. He’d gotten through the first barrier. He’d just have to wait and see if he’d be able to get to the second one.
The call came exactly four days after the interview. Johnny was at Kun’s house, gently petting the beautiful purple petals after his friend had let him water his lilac baby. Johnny gasped slightly as the stem of flower seemed to shiver.
“Careful,” Kun chuckled, no doubt at Johnny’s fascinated expression. “Once you get him started he doesn’t stop giggling.”
Johnny’s mouth fell open. “They - They can giggle? And make noise?”
Kun nodded, sipping from his mug and settling beside Johnny on the couch, watching his sprout baby with such an intense love, Johnny almost felt jealous. He wanted to look at his baby like that too.
“Oh you should just hear it Johnny. Some plants giggle, some babble, I’ve even seen some videos of plants dancing.”
“ Oh ,” Johnny was just positively ruined. A plant? Dancing? Babbling like a baby? He rested his hand on his chest. “Oh Kun, I don’t think my poor heart can handle that.”
And that’s when his cell phone rang.
He pulled it out from his back pocket, wondering who could be calling him. He was right beside Kun, there really wasn’t anyone else who would -
“Kun.” Johnny croaked. “It’s the doctor.”
His best friend stared at him, his mouth open. “You had the interview what - four days ago? And they’re calling you already?!”
“Is that bad?” Johnny’s eyes widened. The ringing was deafening.
“No! No! Answer it Johnny!” Though he hadn’t really needed to, seeing as Kun leaned over and pressed answer anyway, shoving the phone up to Johnny’s ear.
“H-Hello?” Johnny cleared his throat. This was not the time to show weakness.
“Hi! Mr. Suh? This is Doctor Kim!” His voice sounded cheerful, that was a good sign right? “I’m calling in regards to your interview.”
“Yes?” Johnny squeezed his eyes shut, his empty fist throbbing as he closed it tightly.
“Well first I’d like to say congratulations! You’ve been accepted. You’re one step closer to your sprout baby!”
“Oh my god.” Johnny brought his fist to his mouth and bit down on it, trying to hold back his tears that were suddenly threatening to fall.
“So we’ll be setting up two more appointments with you, and if those go well, you’ll be slated for getting your baby in mid-April I’d say.”
“Yes, Yes okay. Thank you.” Johnny sniffed, hastily scribbling down the dates Doctor Kim booked for him on a napkin that was on the coffee table.
“I look forward to seeing you soon, Mr. Suh.”
Johnny stared at the napkin in front of him as the call ended. He’d passed. He was going on to another interview. He was one step closer to his sprout baby.
They sat in silence, Johnny stuck in shocked awe.
“I told you so.” Kun smiled, and that’s when Johnny’s tears finally spilled over.
He cupped his mouth, trying to stop himself from making any embarrassing noises, though Kun was already laughing at him anyway. “Shut up!” Johnny pushed Kun away, who was trying to hug him. “You reacted the exact same way!”
When Kun had stopped laughing and Johnny had (mostly) stopped crying, they heard a rustling that made them turn their attention to the flower in front of them.
Renjun’s stem had shaken and a petal had somehow fallen off and landed on Johnny’s knee.
“I think he’s trying to help you wipe your tears.” Kun whispered, adoration laced in his voice.
Johnny couldn’t help but sniff once more, holding the petal delicately in his palm. “Thank you, Renjun.”
He could have sworn he heard a giggle.
The second interview was almost longer than the first. They’d somehow found even more profound questions that Johnny hadn’t ever thought of. And then Doctor Kim had explained what he would be doing during the year when his baby would sprout and grow.
“We’re going to sign you up for classes in order to prepare - very similar to classes pregnant women take in order to be ready when the baby is born. It does happen quite suddenly I have to say, one night they’re a plant and then the next morning - poof! - you’ve got a little toddler in your arms.”
It seemed that Doctor Kim was even more excited than Johnny was.
“I’m sorry Doctor Kim but - you’re speaking like I’ve already been confirmed. Isn’t there still another step to this?” Johnny appreciated the doctor’s cheerfulness and he was all for positivity, but he just didn’t think he’d be able to take it if he went through it expecting one thing and then not getting the result. He just hoped to pass, to get his baby, because that’s all he could do right now.
“Ah, to be honest John,” Doctor Kim scratched the back of his neck, a little bit sheepish. “I’ve already matched you with a seedling.”
Johnny gaped at him. “Already?!”
“Yes I can’t go too into detail just yet, since there’s still one more interview to go but,” The doctor smiled his signature reassuring grin. “I just knew.”
Johnny felt the tension in his shoulders leave, slumping on the bench in awe. “Wow.”
“Yes, I think he’ll be quite the light in your life.”
“Ah, I’ve said too much!”
Time passed by much more slowly as Johnny waited for the day of his third appointment. Knowing that there was a seedling out there that Doctor Kim thought was the perfect match for him. His son. He was so, so close.
There was still three more days to wait out when Johnny was woken up early in the morning by a phone call.
“Johnny,” It was Kun. It sounded like he was crying. “Johnny he’s here.”
“Hm-what? Who’s there?”
Kun had whispered his son’s name but it had the same effect on Johnny as if he had screamed it. He shot up out of bed, immediately scrambling to put on clothes. He could hear faint cooing noises on the other end of the line.
“Oh my god Kun, is that him?”
“Yes.” Kun sniffed, and his voice strained. Oh he was definitely crying. “Johnny I - He’s beautiful .”
“I’ll be right there.”
When Johnny got to Kun’s house, the door was unlocked, and he bolted straight in. He froze when he saw them. Kun was on the couch, holding baby Renjun in his arms. He was the size of a one year old, though slightly smaller, and his black locks were sprinkled in purple lilac petals.
His little hand took up a quarter of Kun’s cheek, tapping lightly at the wetness that coated them. “Daaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Johnny fell to his knees in front of his best friend, who was now a father. He’d never witnessed a scene more beautiful. “Oh, Kun.”
Renjun wiggled his head, noticing the new person who had joined them.
“Jyaa!” He squealed, holding out his other hand towards Johnny.
Kun finally tore his eyes from his son’s face, looking at Johnny with utmost endearance. “I think he recognizes you.”
Johnny sniffed, gently pressing his lips to the tiny palm held out to him. “Hey there little guy.”
“Do you want to hold him?”
Johnny’s head shot up. “Kun -”
Kun smiled warmly, tilting his head, motioning for Johnny to sit next to him on the couch. Johnny did as he was told, sitting down beside Kun who slowly put his baby in Johnny’s arms.
Renjun made noises, each more captivating than the last.
“Kun I -” Johnny managed to tear his gaze away from the little boy for a moment to look at his friend. “I want this so bad. I was so nervous and unsure before but this - oh god I want this .”
“And you’ll have it soon, Johnny, so soon.”
Renjun squealed as he took hold of one of Johnny’s long slender fingers. Not soon enough , he thought to himself.
Doctor Kim was ecstatic when it came time for Johnny’s third appointment.
“Little Renjunnie is just the cutest, isn’t he? How did that make you feel? When you got the call from Kun? When you saw him?”
Johnny smiled, though it was mainly to himself and at the memory. “It made me realize how much I wanted this. I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure before but now… now…”
“Yes, I find the effect is either one way or the other.”
“Gosh, you’d think as an author I’d be able to find the words to describe that feeling, but when it’s in you and you feel it it’s just…”
“Indescribable?” Doctor Kim suggested with a smile.
Johnny nodded. “Yes, exactly. Indescribable.”
The rest of the appointment went quite differently than the others. Aside from a few more questions, Doctor Kim showed Johnny step-by-step how to take care of a plant, practicing on a few non-baby ones he had around the office.
“You’re a natural John.” The doctor praised and Johnny felt his heart soar.
When the time came for the interview to end, Johnny felt his nerves return, suddenly feeling very hot in the cool, air conditioned office.
“So, we’ll call you in a week, tell you if you’ve passed or not, and if you have, then they’ll arrange a date for you to pick up your sprout at the Pick-Up Center.” Doctor Kim pressed a comforting hand on Johnny’s arm. “Don’t worry about it and don’t stress out too much, okay?”
Johnny nodded. “Okay.”
And of course, it was easier said than done, but having the distraction of Kun letting him play with Renjun made the wait a little more pleasant.
Johnny was sitting on the ground, Renjun in between his long legs as the baby threw around a monkey plushie that Johnny had gifted to him. He ran a finger through the baby’s hair, picking out a stray petal that was caught in his locks.
“He’s still shedding?” Johnny asked, examining the petal in his palm. He leaned down to sniff Renjun’s head, delighted when he was met with the comforting smell of lilac.
“Yeah, Doctor Kim says they do that for about a week after they’re born. He also can’t stop trying to climb back into the pot, so I’ve put it beside him when he sleeps.”
Johnny spent many afternoons at Kun’s place after Renjun was born. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d spent such little time at his own place. And that’s where he’d been, pouring himself a cup of tea as he watched Renjun splay across Kun’s belly, both giggling up a storm, when he’d gotten the call.
“Hi, John Suh? This is Neo Culture Tech labs.”
Johnny almost dropped his mug on the counter. “Y-yes this is he.”
“On behalf of the company we’d like to congratulate you on passing all stages. You’ve been accepted into the sprout baby program.”
Johnny had to lean himself over the sink. The sounds Kun and Renjun were making seemed so distant now. This was it. He’d made it.
“Thank you.” He whispered.
“Of course. Your pickup date is April eleventh, does that work with you?”
Johnny flipped through the calendar on Kun’s corkboard. April 11th was a thursday, he’d be teaching his class. “I-I can’t do that day is there any way - ?”
“Yes of course. We’ll just move you to April twelfth, does that work?”
“Yes.” Johnny breathed. “Yes of course.”
“Alright, you’re all set. We’ll be sending your seedling’s profile in the coming days so you’ll know how to prepare with a proper pot, soil, area to keep them in and whatnot. Congratulations on becoming a father, Mr. Suh.”
Johnny leaned on the counter, feeling out of breath as the call ended.
“Are you okay?” Kun asked, walking in to the kitchen with Renjun in his arms.
Johnny turned, a grin spreading across his face. “I’m going to be a father.”
Mark. That was the name of his son. Peperomia argyreia. That was the kind of plant he was. He would have elliptical shaped leaves with silver stripes. He’d only grow to be around eight inches tall and wide. He would have to be located in medium to low light, away from direct sun.
Johnny already knew exactly the spot where he’d put him. He’d give him his own table, right beside the piano, so Johnny could play for him. His son.
He’d spent hours going over the profile that had been emailed to him. He’d memorized the whole thing. He’d spent days researching the perfect soil, temperature, everything that would make his sprout baby happy.
And now he was here, entering the part of the Neo Culture Tech building he’d never been to before. Here to pick up his son.
He registered at the counter, talking to a young, seemingly nervous worker who kept stumbling over her words.
“Is this your first day?” He asked, curious.
“Is it that obvious?” The girl winced, and Johnny chuckled waving her off.
“It’s fine. I’m sure you’ll get used to it soon.”
“Thank you.” The girl smiled and motioned to the seats in front of the desk. “We just have to wait a moment, so you can just sit there. Oh - and congratulations, Mr. Suh.”
Johnny smiled, turning to the small waiting area. The chairs were empty, save for one where a small man with honey coloured hair bit at his fingertips. Johnny found himself sitting only a couple seats away, intrigued. Was this man also here to pick up his sprout baby? He seemed very nervous.
They sat in silence, but it was hard to get comfortable as the only thing Johnny could hear was the clacking of keys at the receptionist’s desk and the chattering of the man’s teeth on his fingernails. Johnny decided to lean over.
“Are you nervous?”
The man jumped slightly, looking around, almost not believing that Johnny had spoken to him. He wiped his fingers on his jeans, a pink tinge forming on his cheeks. “Ah, yes. I was fine all the way through up until now I guess.”
The man seemed to make himself smaller, whether it was because he was embarrassed or nervous, Johnny didn’t know, but it was still endearing in a way.
“It is a little nerve-wracking. Knowing that they’ll be in our hands soon enough.” Johnny watched the smaller man squirm, realizing that wasn’t quite the way to soothe his nerves. “Sorry, I think I just made you more nervous. Why don’t you tell me about your baby?”
“I - He’s -” The man took a deep breath. “He’s a boy. His name is Donghyuck. He’s a sunny smile dwarf sunflower. He’s gonna need lots of sunlight and he’s just going to be beautiful - I know it.”
Johnny smiled. It reminded him of when Kun had gotten his profile for Renjun, how he gushed and gushed about how beautiful he was going to be. And he definitely had not been wrong.
“And what about you?” The man was turned to him now, his hands gripping lightly at the edge of his seat. Johnny supposed he was feeling slightly better with someone to talk to.
“Mark, my son’s name is Mark.” Johnny had tons of practice with reassuring smiles as a professor in a first-year class. He flashed the man his best one. “He’s a peperomia argyreia. He’s going to be small and wide with big leaves. He’s not going to be a flower but I’m sure he’ll be just as beautiful.”
That seemed to make the small man smile as well. “I’m sure he will be.”
The man jumped again, startled, swinging his head to look at the reception desk. Johnny held in a chuckle. The man definitely reminded him of himself when he was nervous, but just a tad more skittish.
He watched the man get up as the newly hired receptionist delicately placed a white box wrapped with a red ribbon on the counter. He thanked the receptionist and turned to leave with the box in his hands but stopped when he looked at Johnny.
Johnny waved, shaking his head because it really was nothing, all he did was speak to him. “Congratulations on becoming a father, Taeyong.”
That seemed to get the small man beaming, and he thanked Johnny once more before leaving the room. Johnny had only a couple of minutes of thoughts to himself when the receptionist called him over.
He got up, and was greeted with the sight of another white box wrapped in a red ribbon. His son was in there, all ready to be planted and to grow. Johnny took a deep breath, steadying his hands as he collected the box into his arms.
“Thank you.” He breathed to the receptionist, who smiled at him.
“Congratulations on fatherhood, Mr. Suh.”